Takeover Tuesday: Design techniques in ceramics
Our Account Manager, Aisling, recently started a course in pottery and is learning how to craft objects using a technique known as handbuilding. In this Takeover Blog she explains the essentials of this approach.
Techniques involved in handbuilding
Handbuilding is a technique used in ceramics to create different clay forms which cannot be achieved on a throwing wheel.
At the beginning, the clay undergoes a process known as ‘wedging’ which is arguably the most important part of the entire handbuilding process. Similar to kneading dough, wedging involves rolling out and softening the clay to remove any air bubbles ready for shaping - a necessary step to ensure the pot does not weaken or blow in the kiln.
A popular wedging technique used by ceramicists is ‘Ram’s Head’ which has been given its name by the form it creates.
Once the clay has been wedged, the nextstep is to roll out the clay ready to be shaped using a technique known as ‘slabbing’. This involves rolling out the clay to the desired size and thickness, then cutting out and manipulating the shape using cylindrical moulds. They are then joined together to create the form for finished objects. The slabbing technique is often used to create rigid and cylindrical objects, such as mugs, vases or jugs.
‘Coiling’ is another handbuilding technique which dates back thousands of years and involves rolling long and continuous ‘sausage-like’ rolls out of clay and winding them round multiple times to create a ‘spring-like’ formation. This technique is often used to create more complex and intricate shapes for pots, vases or planters.
Once happy with the design, the clay is put in the kiln to be ‘bisque fired’-a process which involves extracting all the excess water from the clay until it hardens. The type of clay used will determine the temperature the kiln is set to.
Finally, the object is ready to be ‘glazed’- a process which involves dipping, pouring or brushing liquid glaze made up of a mixture of finely ground minerals over the clay. The object is placed back into the kiln and a chemical reaction takes place.
A sustainable process
Pottery is an incredibly sustainable process. Reclaiming clay is a process which ensures any ‘off-cuts’, ‘misshapen’, ‘warped’ or ‘cracked’ pieces (before firing) can be recycled and reduced to their original state so the clay can be used again and again. Recycled clay is often left on a porous slab to air dry and to remove excess water. Once dry, the clay can be wedged and used again, meaning there is minimal waste.
Decorative design techniques
Inspired by unconventional ceramic design and repurposing materials, my work is heavily influenced by Japanese design.
‘Kintsugi’ also known as ‘golden joinery’ is a design technique which is centred around reusing and repurposing. The technique involves using powdered silver or gold to piece together broken and disused bits of ceramic back together. The technique is inspired by the Japanese philosophy, wabi-sabi, which sees beauty in imperfections.
‘Kurinuki’, which literally translates to ‘carving out’, is another traditional Japanese design technique. The sculptural technique involves moulding a solid block of clay into the desired shape and hollowing out the centre. Kuriniki is a technique often used to make bespoke teapots and teacups.
‘Nerikomi’is a decorative technique which involves stacking, slicing and cutting coloured pieces of clay to form different patterns and create a marbled effect. The beauty of the Nerikomi technique is every piece which undergoes the process will turn out completely different and be a bespoke piece.
These ancient techniques have stood the test of time and are still widely used in ceramics today. In summary, ceramics are crafted using a resourceful design process - with minerals sourced from the earth and repurposed into objects which can last a lifetime.